Thursday, June 24, 2010

Happy Midsummer (Feliz Festa de São João)

On or about the day of the northern hemisphere's summer solstice (June 20/21) pagan cultures in many places celebrated the longest day of the year with a festival or holiday known as Midsummer. During the period of Christianization of Europe this festival became identified with St. John the Baptist in order to "de-paganize" it, and today many cultures around the world celebrate St. John on June 24. In Brazil this festival is known as Festa de São João and it is celebrated all around the country, though most fervently in Brazil's Northeast. The festival is also known as festas juninas which means "the festivals of June."

The Brazilian festas juninas are associated with community bonfires on the eve of June 24, and with a style of folk-dance called quadrilha. Based on a European dance, the quadrille, the quadrilha has evolved in Brazil unto a complex and complicated dance involving up to 30 dancers led by a couple dressed as a bride and groom. Dancers wear colorful costumes, and there are local, regional and national competitions in Brazil among quadrilha dance troups. Here is a video from YouTube showing part of a competition on the Northeast of Brazil.


Of course, food is an important part of the festas juninas too. The traditional foods of this festival, served at the street fairs that are such an important part of the celebrations, are all associated or made from corn (milho). This is probably due to the fact that June is the harvest season for corn in Brazil, but there may be some other connection to the pagan solstice festivals that were the origin of the festas juninas. Whatever the reason, food stalls at the street fairs feature roasted or boiled corn on the cob, pamonha, bolo de fubá, and a kind of sweet cornmeal pudding known as canjica. (Articles and recipes for pamonha and bolo de fubá have been featured on Flavors of Brazil - click the links to find them).

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